2004 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you are respectful, have integrity and humility, and are passionate about what you do, you are a success."
When Gary Milgard was born in 1936 in Tacoma, Washington, his father was working as a bookkeeper for a glass company. Until his birth, his mother had worked as secretary to the warden of the state penitentiary located on an island in Puget Sound. She was the only woman allowed to be ferried to the prison. When Milgard was seven, he moved with his parents to a small, modest house on a lake. The rural location was heavenly for a young, active boy. Milgard fished and explored the woods daily. He also mowed lawns and raked leaves to make extra money. When he was 14, he got a job at a grocery store and worked there throughout high school to pay for his clothes and to save for a boat he could use on the lake. When he was 16, he bought a 1941 Plymouth for $100.
Milgard did not like school, but he was athletic and loved sports. He was the only high school sophomore to play varsity basketball. He also participated in track and placed second in the state for the high jump during his senior year. Milgard attended the University of Washington and majored in business. To make money while in school, he sold printed dance cards. By the end of his sophomore year, however, he was floundering in his classes. He lacked the motivation to apply himself and finally gave up and left school. He had a summer job working for a wholesale grocer and thought about making a career out of the grocery business. But his father, who now co-owned a small retail glass shop, had gotten in an order of aluminum storm doors and he asked his son if he would like to try to sell them for him. Milgard had never made a sales call in his life, but he went to see the buyer for a large hardware company that had several stores in the Seattle area. When the doors sold quickly, he and his father knew this was an opportunity they couldn't resist and they agreed to sell the doors on a wholesale basis.
Two years later, in 1958, Milgard approached his father about starting their own glass company. He had $1,700 in savings and his father had $3,500, which they used to rent a small warehouse. They hired one employee and bought a red truck, the only color available from the dealer. Four years later, Milgard left his father and brother to run the glass business while he set up shop as a window manufacturer. Today, Milgard Manufacturing, whose truck fleet has grown to 600 red trucks, is the largest supplier of residential windows in the western United States. Milgard's vinyl windows have been selected as the best vinyl windows in the United States by the National Association of Home Builders in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003. In 1994, the state of Washington recognized Milgard's achievements by naming him its Entrepreneur of the Year.
His long years in business taught Milgard that you have to believe in yourself as much as your product. He often told young audiences at the University of Washington, "If you only accomplish a fraction of what you're capable of, you will be astounded at what you can do. My advice is not to just go out and look for a job. Look for something where you can distinguish yourself. Excel at what you do and the opportunities will come to you."* Deceased